Allies in understanding
Religion and education both like explaining themselves using metaphors from food and shopping: "Curriculum needs balance and variety, like a good diet", "Religious education should not present a smorgasbord, or a pick'n'mix approach to beliefs and values."
The RE diet has changed rapidly over the past couple of decades. Teachers have become more secure in teaching world religions, and engaging pupils in spiritual reflection. But this year's report from the chief inspector of schools is still pretty critical of RE in comparison with other subjects.
My judgment is that there is less dull stuff at the RE supermarket. The range of goods on offer has widened and the quality is getting better.
The new product on the shelf this year is citizenship. Many teachers of RE think Professor Crick (author of the report Citizenship and the Teaching of Democracy in Schools) has been given a privileged place in curricular change, in a way that no religion (or ideology) could or should be privileged.
My own "taste test" suggests that canned citizenship will get served up, will be bland, and short on spice, without much diversity of ingredients.
Citizenship largely ignores the QCA's substantial work on values and spiritual and moral development. Many RE professionals want to offer pupils more of an international curriculum than a national curriculum. The real lifeskills of E will help pupils live in a world where Islam is the fastest-growing religion, Christianity marks the identity of almost a third of all the human race, and in which religions have outlived various Marxisms, and offer the children of the new century both hope and danger.
At present, there are no citizenship teachers, and no sign that the new subject will find it easy to avoid being served up as dilute, sub-liberal, monocultural and insensitive by untrained teachers with a hundred higher priorities.
The citizenship Order is unfriendly to RE, but the boldest subject leaders in RE are already knocking at the headteacher's door, saying they will lead on citizenship. They know that when eight-year-olds discover that Christian Aid works with Hindu people on development projects in India, and wonder whether those people are better than we are at community action, what is going on is clearly both good RE and good citizenship education Teenagers research the contributions to animal welfare made by Buddhists and Christians, and ask questions about the distinctiveness and similarities of human and animal nature, exploring how beliefs affect values and behaviour. Is that RE, or citizenship? I think it is both.
Lat Blaylock is the executive officer of the Professional Council for RE, Christian Education Movement, Royal Buildings, Victoria Street, Derby, DE1 1GW. Tel: 01332 296655. Free copy of 'Resource', PCFRE's journal, on request